Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Whiskey Law: Distilled from Mash

Under the United States federal regulations defining classes of spirits, bourbon, rye whiskey, malt whiskey and wheat whiskey must be stored in charred new oak containers.  But what happens if you make what would be a bourbon or a rye and store it in used barrels?  Then it becomes a different type of whiskey, known as a "whiskey distilled from bourbon (or rye, or wheat or malt) mash."

Under the TTB regulations, whiskey distilled from bourbon (or rye, or wheat or malt) mash is defined as "whisky produced in the United States at not exceeding 160° proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain, respectively, and stored in used oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type." 27 CFR § 5.22(b)(2).

Sounds simple enough: if you age it in new, charred barrels, it's bourbon; if you age it in used barrels, it's whiskey distilled from a bourbon mash. However, there is one additional complication: corn whiskey. Corn whiskey is a whiskey made from a mash of at least 80% corn that is unaged or aged in used or uncharred barrels, so a bourbon mash that is 80% corn and aged in used barrels would potentially qualify as both corn whiskey and whiskey distilled from bourbon mash. The regulations address this by stating that "Whisky conforming to the standard of identity for corn whisky must be designated corn whisky." 27 CFR § 5.22(b)(2).

To summarize, a whiskey composed of at least 51% rye, wheat or malt whiskey aged in used barrels is a "whiskey distilled from (rye, wheat or malt) mash." A whiskey composed of at least 51% but less than 80% corn and aged in used barrels is a "whiskey distilled from bourbon mash," and a whiskey composed of at least 80% corn and aged in used barrels is a corn whiskey.

Got it?


Unknown said...

My head hurts and I'm an attorney......

Josh Feldman said...

All true. Now, what happens when I take Straight Bourbon or Rye (aged in new oak for at least 2 years) and then decant it into used cooperage and give it additional maturation? I'm thinking Angel's Envy, Hooker's, Big Bottom, etc... where the Bourbon or rye is finished in port, sherry, rum, or wine cask - in the style so often done in the malt whisky world (like Glenmorangie, Amrut, Kavalan, Dalmore, etc.. etc...). I've always held that such wine/rum finished whiskies are still Bourbon / Rye. But this discussion gives me pause. Is it a gray area or is finished Bourbon still Bourbon under the law. It's clearly labelled that way.

sku said...

Excellent question Josh. I tackled it a few years ago in this post on whiskey law.

Chris said...

Are all of these designations required? That is, does a producer have to label a "whiskey distilled from bourbon mash" as such, or can they simply label it as "whiskey?"

sku said...

Per the regulations, labels are supposed to use the specific class and type designation, though it seems that this is not always done so long as they use a class and type that is accurate (such as the generic "whiskey" on some bottles).

kallaskander said...

Hi there,

why don't Americans not just kick the existing rules and start from scratch?

Afraid not to be able to concoct something as confusing and loop-holed?

Just kidding.